Immigration: Inside a broken system

Published: Jan. 30, 2015 at 2:42 AM MST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 at 5:14 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Undocumented immigrants who grew up in the United States are making headlines lately, because President Barack Obama's immigration actions will allow them to apply to live and work here legally.

However, thousands of children who were brought up here legally are now adults and still don't have the permanent status they applied for years ago. Their applications have to go through several federal agencies including Customs and Immigration Services, the State Department, Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and for those who come here to work a specific job, the Labor Department.

Adriana Armenta has a stack of documents that make it possible for her to live and work in the U.S. You can even see her grow up in years of official photos.

"We didn't jump the fence. We didn't go through a tunnel. We didn't do anything. We did it the right way,” Armenta said.

Her father followed the rules, brought her here legally when she was 4-years-old, and then immediately filed for residency.

Yet 20 years later, Armenta has collected a stack of receipts for fees she's paid to guarantee her freedoms year after year.

"I feel like immigration just sees the papers and they're like, 'Oh, another paper,' but they don't consider us being humans."

"I try to analogize it to a maze,” immigration attorney Maurice Goldman said.

The reason for the hold up, he said, is too many departments, too much red tape, and no point person.

"You or I don't communicate directly with the officers that sit and adjudicate those applications. So you're talking about just the craziest bureaucracy around," Goldman said.

In addition to that, only a certain number of visas can be awarded every year.

Every year, Armenta and her family members have to spend about $900 per person to renew permits and other paperwork so they can work and drive legally. She said she's watched her father do everything he can to maintain those costs through the years.

"Working three jobs just to be able to pay this and put food on the table. It's just really hard to see him still struggling with it,” Armenta said.

Her journey to citizenship could soon be over.

Her new husband is a U.S. citizen which now puts her on the fast-track to permanent status. She now has to save up and file again.

"I think most of these politicians know that ... in reality, it doesn't work the way they say it does," Goldman said.

The latest visa bulletin on the State Department website shows the government is now reviewing applications for some visa types that were filed in 1994.

Armenta's family filed in 1995.

"I just don't think it's fair, that all these immigrants are getting everything done and we're still stuck in the same process," Armenta said.

Goldman said "dreamers," children who came to the U.S. illegally, will not have it any easier than Armenta. He said it's a different process, but it still takes years for those applications to pass through many hands.

Some would argue that the wait is just part of the process for anyone who wants to live here. Pima County Republican Party Chairman, Bill Beard blames President Obama for making immigration policies without considering the details. He said Armenta's case shows how bad decisions by the administration cause tragic consequences for real people.

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